Sunday, August 12, 2012


They were called "Larkin Secretaries," and they covered the neighborhoods and communities around the turn of the twentieth century selling Larkin Soap Company (Buffalo, NY) products door-to-door; housewives, mostly, earning premium certificates for every item they sold. They redeemed those premiums for home furnishings -- tables, chairs, sideboards, rugs, curtains -- even a grand piano, although I can't imagine how many bars of "Sweet Home" soap they had to sell to earn enough certificates to buy a piano!

One Maine woman who bought Larkin products was Ella Thompson, who lived in East Pittston from the 1870s to the early 1900s. I lived in her farmhouse 100 years after she did, and spent many hours picking over the house dumps. I know she bought perfume and china from the Larkin catalog -- I found her discarded bottles and broken plates and cups behind the stone wall up beyond the barn.

Ella also bught lots of Larkin Cold Cream: I have seven intact jars (four with lids), and found enough broken ones to indicate she used three or four jars a year, at least. They're made of milk glass (a beautiful floral pattern is visible in the photograph here), with single-screw aluminum lids that still fit snugly.

Every time I pick one up, every time I hold one in the palm of my hand, I am aware of Ella Thompson; I am touching what she has touched, and the two of us are connected, somehow, over all those years.

I have a name for that connection -- I call it history.

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